01 February, 2007, Countercurrents.org
Instead of asking Bal Thackeray to apologise to the President of India for saying, "His hair is falling over his eyes and blinding him, or perhaps he is seeing stars or the moon before his eyes", we ought to thank him.
If the Shiv Sena chief can be accused of frivolity, then the responses are just about as flippant. They say he has insulted the highest office in the land by taking personal pot-shots. President Kalam's hair had been the topic of discussion from the day he was in the running for the post. Newspapers had put up computer-generated images of him in various hairstyles that would 'suit him'. No one objected then.
Even today, the Prez happily takes up assignments as guest editor and writes articles. Don't these go against the dignity of the office he holds? Is one to assume he agrees with the policy of the medium of communication?
We must not forget that President Kalam was chosen by the NDA government. It was a smart move. You got your token Muslim who was not bearded, who said he was impressed by sadhus seated around in a trance and who could quote from the Bhagwad Gita.
If this is what keeps the Hindutva lobby happy, then the Congress has its own reasons. As the Mumbai chief of the party, Gurudas Kamat, said, "In a desperate measure to seek votes, Thackeray is attacking Kalam, who gave 'Agni' to the nation."
What if he had not given the nation this macho little toy that could frighten the enemy across the border? Would his loyalty too, like that of a few million in this country, be suspect?
Thackeray's statement can have a more dreadful impact than one may imagine. Will the President be compelled to fall prey to such pressures when the fact is that the Mohammed Afzal case is not a watertight one and deserves clemency? Afzal has killed no one. What he did is in the court papers; on the day when Parliament was attacked he fiddled around, just like Narendra Modi did during the Gujarat riots.
Thackeray's own record during the riots of 1992-93 is no better. His interest in the 'Muslim problem' was largely because he realised that Islam was the new pop cult and he did not want to lose out on the mileage it would get him. A television anchor asked his lawyer about his recent comments. Among the usual things, the reply also mentioned that "this is a Hindu rashtra". Much to my amazement, the anchor did not counter-question. They were still harping on the rape of the President's locks.
Do you understand? The malaise goes beyond Matoshree where 'saheb' sits like a Mogambo in an ornate chair and dispenses a form of urban Panchayati Raj justice. This is the man who had said that if anything happened to him then the city would burn. A bit ironical for he has never contested an election and cannot move around without security guards. What is he afraid of?
He gives the impression of leading from the front and being upfront when he is safely ensconced in hypocrisies.
He has spoken against dynastic rule, but the Sena is nothing more than a family-run small-scale industry.
He has a problem with anything western, but when it suited him he sucked up to ENRON.
He had been a strong proponent of TADA, but when Sanjay Dutt was arrested under the Act and the case was still sub-judice he had no problem in pronouncing him "a nice boy".
He flaunts the Hindutva card – "Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai" is a Thackeray coinage – yet he is selective about the Hindus he speaks up for. Shiv Sainiks from the lower rung of the caste hierarchy or outsiders are soon shown where they belong. Chhagan Bhujbal, Sanjay Nirupam, Narayan Rane were all loyalists who left.
His boys are told to uphold Indian culture; they destroy stuffed teddy bears and tinsel-covered hearts, they round up couples in parks and tear posters they deem vulgar. Yet, to protest against his support for the film 'Fire', they went on a mission to actor Dilip Kumar's house dressed in nothing but underwear.
He tarnishes the public display of one particular religion as jihad, but it was his party that took the maha-artis out in the streets.
If underworld dons forced film stars and singers to perform and do their bidding, then the Shiv Sena does the same.
Industry bigwigs go to his house to seek his 'blessings'. Everyone knows the price.
These are issues that ought to bother us. The Presidential post is above religion and there is no need to be touchy about careless comments. Instead, Thackeray should be made accountable for being an irresponsible citizen.
(Farzana Versey can be contacted at [email protected] )ttp://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/